Industrial agriculture is a widespread modern form of farming that seeks to streamline and mechanize the production of meat and dairy animals, poultry, fisheries, and crops. This form of agriculture strives to maximize profit through innovations in technology and chemical processes, creation of new consumer markets, and expanding global trade. The increased industrialization of agriculture that has occurred over the 20th century necessitated extensive inputs into farms of every type: chemical fertilizers and pesticides to maintain soil fertility, yields in monoculture crop fields, and sustained use of antibiotics in livestock farms to stave off diseases due to overcrowding.
Public concern about issues created by industrial agriculture is at an all time high, partly due to popular documentaries such as Food Inc which reveal the unsavory processes involved in getting much of our food to our plates. The highly intensive nature of industrial agriculture has led to many environmental issues. These include decreased biodiversity, declining fish stocks, a world-wide loss of topsoil, toxic waste from confinement livestock operations, and the emission of greenhouse gasses. Industrial agriculture also has social impacts. The centralization of food production has put many small family farms out of business and made farming, in its industrial form, an undesirable career. This has left both Canada and the United States with a greatly decreased farm population that is rapidly aging – the average farmer is currently over 55 years old, causing many to question who will grow food for the generations to come.
Proponents of industrial agriculture argue that industrial processes are necessary in order to feed the world’s burgeoning population. However, as malnutrition continues to affect more than a billion people around the globe while obesity rates soar elsewhere, the ability of industrial agriculture to feed the world seems dubious. Hunger and malnutrition persist due to unequal distribution, not insufficient production, so must be tackled using a variety of approaches, not simply increasing output through further industrialization. Many people are seeking alternatives to industrial production, instead opting for sustainably grown foods or buying directly from farmers through markets and community supported farms.
Organizations & Websites
Civil Eats – diverse writers promoting critical thought about sustainable agriculture and food systems as part of building economically and socially just communities. Can be humorous, serious, academic, philosophical, conversational – but it is always thought provoking, innovative, and focused on food politics.
Food First: Institute for Food and Development Policy – shapes how people think by analyzing the root causes of global hunger, poverty, and ecological degradation and developing solutions in partnership with movements working for social change.
Toronto Farmers’ Market Network – list of locations and dates for markets selling Ontario-grown produce in Toronto
Diet for a Small Planet – Frances Lappe
Food Wars – Tim Lang and Michael Heasman
Hope’s Edge: The New Diet for a Small Planet – Frances Lappe and Anna Moore Lappe
Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
Stolen Harvest: The High Jacking of the Global Food Supply – Vandana Shiva
The Omnivores Dilemma – Michael Pollan
Dirt! The Movie – offers a vision of a sustainable relationship between Humans and Dirt through profiles of the global visionaries who are determined to repair the damage we’ve done before it’s too late.
Food Inc – lifts the veil on the American food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the consumer with the consent of the government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA.
FRESH the Movie – celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system.